Roswell or Bust!
“Get away from the windows!” Joe looked into a small interior mirror that allowed him to see his guests without turning his back on the road.
It was the third time he’d had to warn them about showing their faces in the windows.
The first time had been as they approached St. George, Utah. Bob One came to the driver’s seat and pointed at the road sign.
“What’s that? What’s ‘Zion Natl Park Grand Canyon Lake Powell Exit 27’?”
Joe knew it was Bob One, because he was the one who didn’t wear pants—not that there was anything particularly offensive about a Roswell Gray’s lower regions.
“They’re tourist destinations—places where people go to see the scenery.”
“Let’s go there.”
“It’s not on the way. We’re in a hurry aren’t we?”
The second time was in St. George itself, as the aliens watched the passing cars out of the side window in the kitchen area. Two bench seats faced the little dining table and it was a natural place to sit, but with the blinds up, people could look in easily.
This time the Bobs were looking out at the steep canyon walls of the Narrows, a scenic path Interstate 15 had taken from St. George, Utah as they made their way towards Las Vegas, Nevada. The highway cut across the northwestern corner of Arizona, but there were no cities here, just a narrow canyon worn by the Virgin River through the Virgin Mountains.
The aliens leaned close to the windows, watching the scenery. They didn’t budge at his call. Joe saw a wide place on the shoulder where other vehicles had stopped. He slowed and pulled off the pavement.
“What’re you doing?” asked Judith.
“If they don’t stop acting like tourists, we’re going to get people reporting aliens on the interstate.”
Bob One said, “Sorry, but you have to understand we’ve been locked in little rooms for a long time. We are tourists.”
Joe got out of his seat and faced them. “The car had tinted windows, but this RV doesn’t. We’ve got to look like ordinary travelers, or we’ll never make it far enough to save the Sams.”
Bob Four said, “Joe, we risked our lives to come study the strange and new. It’s already cost us decades of imprisonment. You can’t expect us to hide under the covers the whole way.”
Judith rested her hand on Joe’s arm. “I’ve known these guys for years. Let me talk to them.”
She went back to sit with the Bobs. Joe pulled back onto the road. The next time he checked the mirror, they were keeping well away from the glass, staying in the shadows. Judith was talking intently with Bob One about something. She came back up after a few more miles.
“We need to stop in the next town to get some groceries.” Joe nodded, although he was nervous about his passengers.
In Mesquite, Nevada, he pulled into the back of a large parking lot, well away from the other vehicles. Judith asked what everyone wanted to eat. Joe left it up to her. She began to reprogram the credit card to a new number.
Joe muttered, “ATM first, then pay with cash.”
She nodded. “Of course.”
Bob Four said, “Joe, in one of the movies I saw on television last night, a band of crooks pretended to be filming a movie as cover for a robbery. We need some indirection, just in case anyone sees us.”
Joe nodded, thinking. Judith was out the door and heading for the store when he ducked out and called out to her, “Judith! Get some road maps. And if they have white poster-board, get three and some markers.”
She gestured, “Why?”
Bob Four was clicking through channels of static, looking for a signal. “The television only works when you have the ignition key turned off.”
“Yeah, that’s probably right. It’s a safety thing, to keep drivers from being distracted from the road.”
“We’ll have to fix that.”
The RV had two televisions, one in front, up high above the windshield. The other was back in the bedroom.
“Let’s raise the antenna while Judith’s in the store.” There was a crank in the ceiling. The antenna folded down flat while driving.
When Bob Four found a daytime soap opera, the Bobs and even Fred Four collected on the couch to watch. Joe had no interest in the soaps. He knew his sister turned on the television to watch her shows as she cleaned up the guest rooms, but he only did that when there was a good movie on HBO.
Today, he was more interested in the town. Mesquite was the first Nevada city on the interstate, which meant the first casino. For a small community, there were huge billboards and fancy attractions. They’d gone all out to attract travelers coming down from the northern states.
But Joe could tell it wasn’t a place for a small motel. Big corporations with big money had come in and constructed “resorts”. If you didn’t have a low cost buffet and a golf course, you didn’t have much to advertise. In a place like this, no advertising meant no customers. At home, it was different. The big chain motels advertised on the billboards, but regular travelers knew there were possibly cheaper accommodations in the smaller places.
“What are you looking at?” Bob One had slipped up to his side. Bobs moved quietly.
Joe waved at the town. He tried to put his thoughts into plain sentences. Bob One listened intently.
“So, these people live by attracting others here?”
He nodded. “For the most part. Everybody advertises services. This is just an extreme example. Of course there are other businesses, I suppose, that support the local residents, but if the tourists stopped coming....”
Bob nodded. “I’m familiar with the economics.” Thin fingers waved at the window. “Are you attracted to this location?”
Joe’s nose wrinkled. “Maybe. It’s a desert area, but there’s a river through it. I might like to look around, but I don’t think I’d enjoy living here.”
“And do others think as you do?”
He laughed, “No, I think they come for the gambling.”
It was after sunset when they arrived at Las Vegas, Nevada, but the city lit up the landscape.
“I’ve always wanted to see the other Las Vegas.”
Judith frowned. “We’re not going to stop and gamble.”
Bob Four said, “I’ve read of the place in my magazines for years. Can’t we get closer?”
Joe looked at the dancing lights and a column of light that went all the way up to a hazy cloud layer. He peered at the folded map in his right hand.
“We can stay on I-15, until this turn-off, then cut over on 215. It’ll be slower, but we’ll re-join the highway here.”
Judith looked unconvinced, but she raised no objection, so he waited, and took the Sahara exit. She went to the table and began doing something with a paper bag.
Once he was on the Strip, it was stop and go. He had to concentrate hard on keeping inside his lane.
Judith and the aliens, however, were pressed up against the windows, taking in the bright lights of the casinos. About every other block, someone would honk at them. Joe took a second look at Judith in the little mirror. She’d made a Roswell Gray mask out of a paper bag and had pulled it over her head.
Great! I’ve got to get back on the highway. A cop car is gonna flag us down any minute.
In his side mirror, Joe saw a stretch limo pull up beside them. The sunroof was down and two girls, very much dressed to party, were waving his way. Joe waved back, but he could tell that they weren’t really interested in him. The blonde, with the sequined top that threatened to spill over, was yelling, and as close as they were, the talkie made lip-reading effortless.
“Great costume dude! Which casino are you with?”
In his inside mirror Joe could see Bob One wave back at her. Bob Four joined in, before the traffic separated them.
It’s working! He allowed himself to relax, just a bit. Running a bluff wasn’t in his nature. He grinned at Judith, but she was looking at the lights. He could barely see her real eyes in the cutout holes in the middle of the alien ones.
He wanted to save the moment. Joe looked at the video camera he’d taken from the policeman.
I wonder. He checked the traffic. There was a break. He slammed on the brakes and pulled into a large casino parking lot.
“What’re you doing?”
He grinned at her. “It’ll only take a second.”
He dashed out the side door and went around to their window.
“Wave and smile!”
With the lights of the casinos in the background, he filmed the aliens waving in the window. Taking up half the window was Judith’s drawing.
She’d done an excellent job. She was quite an artist and he’d never had the opportunity to see it before. In broad cartoonish strokes, it showed the RV, with cartoon aliens waving out the window. A dented flying saucer was strapped to the top of the RV, and under the wheels in a flowing banner script was the large text, “Roswell or Bust!”
She’d used up several little jars of paint making three of the signs. There was another on the other side, and one in the rear window.
As he settled back into the driver’s seat. Bob Four nodded. “Good job, Joe. I’d never have thought of it. Humans are an interesting species. But, just one thing.”
“Why ‘Roswell or Bust’? We aren’t intending to explode are we?”
Joe pulled back onto the road. “It’s historical.” He slipped into his tour guide voice. “About a hundred years before your crash, gold was discovered in California. Many people, some who couldn’t afford to do so, packed all their belongings into a wagon and painted ‘California or Bust’ on the side.
“They were making a statement. Bust means more than explode; it can also mean go broke. Either the trip would be successful, or they would be wiped out.
“So, our sign means we’ll use every resource we have to get you to Roswell and rescue your people.”
Saying the words for Bob, explaining the phrase that had just popped out of his subconscious, made it suddenly real. He settled himself into the driver’s seat and checked the mirrors once again. They had a big job to do, and a lot of miles yet to travel.